Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Experiment on a Seesaw as the Direct Communication Initiator

ABSTRACT
This experiment is to explore the potential of the seesaw as a direct communication initiator in the urban public space. First, the plain seesaw in various public settings was observed. The first observation shows that playing seesaw can initiate the conversation between people who already know each other, but initiating the strangers to play the seesaw together is very difficult except for the special occasion. However, once strangers play the seesaw, they converse and introduce themselves. Second observation was done with the seesaw with auditory responsive system that works as the attractor and the reward system. This has increased the frequency and the duration of people’s playing the seesaw. The second observation also shows that the responsive system pulls more participation of the pedestrian but at the same time makes them more cautious about their behavior. The experiment needs to go further, suggesting that more tempting and satisfying reward needs to be expected from initial touching of the seesaw in order to make it possible for the strangers to act together and in order to make the conversation on the seesaw more sustainable.



BACKGROUND
I speculated that a cooperative character of seesaw and the close proximity occurred when sitting on a seesaw would increase the local communication in the urban setting where the communication and relationship is not proportional to the physical proximity[1]. The initial design was the seesaw that charges the mobile phone while initiating the conversation between the people. The mobile phone charger functions as the attractor and the reward of overcoming the shyness and taking the risk of being with stranger.

I wanted to observe and verify the actual sociable potentiality of a seesaw in a public space. However, the seesaw as a electricity generator is hard to be used as the attractor of the public because of the lack of prior understanding of the unusual function. In order to study the inviting and rewarding factor from the observation, I planned to experiment with the plain seesaw to observe the potentiality of the direct communication it can initiate and to go through the iterative observation process. The observation was done twice in the various public settings.


FIELD OBSERVATION 1
I produced the full-scale seesaw to observe how it will initiate the direct communication between people in the public place.

Seesaw production


The seesaw is made of softwood lumbers and a steel rode. The scale is designed for adults. When balanced, the height is 21 inches. The length, which is 50 inches, is designed as being shorter than conventional seesaw in order to invite and ease the conversation between the sitters.

Observation
The seesaw was placed in several types of public space which varies in population and sociableness. The tested places consisted of beer and dog event at GSD, a crossroad, the front of science canter, the harvard yard, Au Bon Pain at harvard square and harvard square T station. The observation last about 20 minutes at each places, except the harvard yard where one family happened to enjoy the seesaw for a long time.


(1) Initial observation was done at beer and dog, which is a weekly sociable event at GSD. Followings could be observed there.
- Adults played the seesaw and started conversation between strangers.
- Some adults expressed their nostalgic feeling to the seesaw.
- Some adults played the seesaw in their own way, i.e. sitting facing towards the opposite direction.
**Special conditions
- Most of the people were slightly drunken adults.
- The strangers were likely to be assumed as being affiliated with the school.

(2) Crossroad
- Some adults touched the seesaw.
- The seesaw drew some attention.

(3) The front of science center is comparatively less touristic public place where students and families enjoy walking in the sun.
- A couple of adults played seesaw.
- Several families played seesaw and seemed to enjoy the unexpected experience.
- Several adults touched the seesaw and changed the balance when passing by it.
- Some adults expressed their nostalgic feeling to the seesaw.

(4) Yard in front of John Harvard statue is both a passage for the students and a touristic spot.
- Many adults touched the seesaw to move the balance but did not actually play it.
- Two groups of adults played the seesaw and ended up with taking photographs.
- Several families played seesaw.
- One father and his young son played the seesaw for about 20 minutes constantly talking to each other.

(5) Au Bon Pain at harvard square is a meeting place with the large floating population.
- Some adults touched the seesaw.
- The seesaw drew some attention.

(6) The front of Harvard square T station is a crowded place for transportation rather than a touristic spot.
- No one touched the seesaw.
- The seesaw hardly got attention.

Results
The seesaw in the public place easily gets attention except at the place for transportation where the population is in motion with a goal of arriving somewhere else. Especially the children easily get interested in the seesaw and play it. Adults tend to get interested in the seesaw and often touch it but do not often play it. Adults in sociable context converse with stranger on seesaw. Adults in normal situation do not play the seesaw or converse with stranger. Adults who already know each other play the seesaw and converse. An adult and a child converse each other. Children do not converse on a seesaw whether they already know each other or not.

Initial findings
The seesaw itself draws the attention and invites people to touch it in the public space. The seesaw seems to be perceived as an emotional object for adults. while it seems to be an exciting toy for children.

Playing the seesaw sometimes forms intimate and isolated environment of the two sitters regardless of the actual context of the place.

It is hard to make perfect strangers to play seesaw together unless they are in the context of sociable event or the players are children under their parents care. But once they start playing, the seesaw make the adults start conversation and end up with introduce themselves to each other. The children don’t converse with each other when playing a seesaw.

Playing seesaw is about conversation when one or more sitters are adults. The motivation for adults to continue moving the seesaw after initial touching is needed for playing the seesaw longer and initiating the conversation.


FIELD OBSERVATION 2

I added the sensor and actuator to the seesaw to produce the sensory feedback to touching reaction by pedestrians and increase the curiosity. The purpose is to observe whether it increases the people and time of playing the seesaw in a public place.

System design



The seesaw itself draws visual attention and invite people in the public space. In order to increase the actual interaction, such as touching the seesaw, of the pedestrians, the seesaw is producing the weak sound which can be heard by the people in the close proximity. The added auditory cue amplifies the curiosity about the unusual seesaw.

Upon touching the seesaw, the tilt change of the seesaw triggers the louder sound to provide the clue that there is the rewarding from playing the seesaw. Constantly playing seesaw keeps the sound louder. My original plan includes that starting conversation triggers the sound effect which results in more cheerful and ambient sound which would not disturb the conversation and would help increasing the positive affection, which could not be realized before the second field observation.

The first iteration consists of an accelerometer and a piezo speaker wired with the arduino microcontroller, which makes the stand-alone interactive system. The piezon speaker produces a diatonic scale proportional to the tilt of the seesaw board. However, the speaker does not produce the favorable sound.

The second iteration consists of Max/MSP software and Wii controller. The sound output is from the built-in speaker of the MacBook. The reason of using Wii controller is that I could not get the bluetooth wireless component that can be used for connecting the Max/MSP installed MacBook with the arduino. By using this system, several types of sound were tested and the soft trembling sound was selected among the simple midi sound, the piano sound of playing chromatic scale and the ambient music.

Observation
The site of observation includes GSD cafeteria and the harvard yard. The observation last about 20 minutes at each places.



(1) GSD cafeteria has a floating population of design students.
- Some adults attended the seesaw.
- Two people played the seesaw.
- One person commented the sound attracted his attention very much.

(2) Yard in front of John Harvard statue is both a passage for the students and a touristic spot.
- The seesaw attracted more people with the initial sound, while some people commented not to notice the sound at all.
- The increase of sound intensity attracted adults to touch or play the seesaw longer than the one without the interactive system.
- One person commented short length seesaw made it harder to balance.
- One person commented that he attended the seesaw from a far distance because of its unusual context.
- One person looked for and revealed the control system.
- The seesaw tended to pull attention from the surroundings to the opposite sitter.
- The laptop near to the seesaw seemed to threaten the people from interacting with the seesaw.

Results
The initial sound and the increase of sound triggered by touching the seesaw invite more people to play the seesaw longer. The sound generally increases the curiosity. However, the sound and the visible system such as laptop computer also makes people to be more cautious and hesitate touching or playing with the seesaw. Some people did not notice the sound in the field.


CONCLUSION

The design of seesaw is intended for increasing the communication between people at a close distance. The seesaw in a public place invites the pedestrians to touch and play it because of its unusual context. Playing the seesaw sometimes forms intimate and isolated environment of the two sitters regardless of the actual context of the place. The responsive sound of the seesaw also increases the curiosity and the frequency of playing the seesaw. However, the seesaw, whether it is interactive or not, does not seem to trigger the communication between strangers except the case where the people are already in the sociable setting.

At the same time, the sound and the interactive system which is visible but can be suspicious increases the precaution of the people. The obvious act of documenting the situation does not seem to worry people as much as the laptop, similarly to the Performance Three of Souveillance project done by Mann, Nolan an Wellman[2]. It could be seen from people that the tension between the curiosity and the precaution about the interactive seesaw exists.

More familiar and sustainable interaction that would decrease the precaution and maintain the curiosity is needed for the improvement of the seesaw for increasing the local communication. More specific and tangible reward that does not require the additional explanation is also needed. In order for making the chance for the strangers to play the seesaw together and start conversation, it is worth thinking of the alternative type of reward which is very tempting and satisfying to the degree that may have people to want to sing or dance with strangers in a special occasion.


REFERENCES
[1] Milgram, S. (1970) The Experience of Living in Cities. Science, New Series, 167, 1461-1468.
[2] Mann, S., Nolan, J. and Wellman, B. (2003) Sousveillance: Inventing and Using Wearable Computing Devices for Data Collection in Surveillance Environments. Surveillance & Society 1(3), 331-355.

36 comments:

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